John Hope Franklin (1915–March 25, 2009)

Discussion in 'Honoring Black Ancestors' started by cherryblossom, Apr 2, 2009.

  1. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    John Hope Franklin, Scholar and Witness

    Derek Anderson for The New York Times
    REMEMBERING The historian John Hope Franklin took pains to remind us of how much of his and our history we would like to forget.

    By PETER APPLEBOME
    Published: March 28, 2009
    When he was a boy in segregated Oklahoma, where he was born in 1915, John Hope Franklin used to indulge in a subversive bit of wordplay like a small act of public and private theater.
    “My mother and I used to have a game we’d play on our public,” Dr. Franklin said not long ago, his voice full of artful pauses, words pulled out like taffy. “She would say if anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be the first Negro president of the United States. And just the words were so far-fetched, so incredible that we used to really have fun, just saying it.”

    Even in a country where the far-fetched, for better and for worse, so often becomes reality, few historians achieved the stature, both as scholars and as moral figures — and as combinations of the two — that Dr. Franklin did. When he died last week, at the age of 94, an American epoch seemed to vanish with him.

    Dr. Franklin was first and foremost a major historian, whose landmark book, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” first published in 1947, was a comprehensive survey that sold more than three million copies. The book also permanently altered the ways in which the American narrative was studied.

    “What distinguishes his history or historiography is that he, like few other historians, wrote a book that transformed the way we understand a major social phenomenon,” said David Levering Lewis, the New York University historian, who like Dr. Franklin studied under Theodore Currier at Fisk University in Nashville.

    “When you think of ‘From Slavery to Freedom,’ there’s before and there’s after, there’s the world before and then we have a basic paradigm shift,” he said. “Before him you had a field of study that had been feeble and marginalized, full of a pretty brutal discounting of the impact of people of color. And he moved it into the main American narrative. It empowered a whole new field of study.”

    Dr. Lewis and others argue that Dr. Franklin’s work helped empower not just African-American studies, but the whole range of alternative stories — of women, gays, Hispanics, Asians and others — now so much a part of mainstream academia.

    Dr. Franklin accomplished this not through advocacy but rather through the traditional means of scholarly inquiry. In his discussion, for instance, of the intersection of race and imperialism at the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Franklin observed: “The United States, unlike other imperial powers, had a color problem at home and therefore had to pursue a policy with regard to race that would not upset the racial equilibrium within the United States. In Puerto Rico, for example, approximately one-third of the population was distinctly of African descent, and many so-called white Puerto Ricans had sufficient black blood in their veins to qualify as African-Americans in the United States.”

    The detailed command of the subject is impressive. But the revelation was in the literary and intellectual finesse. It was one thing for a white historian to invoke “racial equilibrium,” but when a black historian did it the term assumed a new, almost satirical meaning. So, too, with his understated observation about Puerto Ricans who might “qualify” as African-Americans, which implied that being labeled black was a kind of privilege in a nation that was in fact still segregated.

    There was a hint in this of carefully managed subversion — of meticulous, even-handed scholarship that pointed to the searing truths of racial injustice, just as one of Dr. Franklin’s great forebears, W. E. B. Du Bois, had done in his classic “Souls of Black Folk.” (At age 11, he heard Du Bois speak in Tulsa. Later, the two became friends.) At the same time, Dr. Franklin’s discussion of racial ambiguity pioneered a new form of scholarship that questioned familiar categories and foreshadowed the work of later scholars like the social scientist Orlando Patterson, who continue to examine the complex realities of race in an increasingly plural world.

    What set Dr. Franklin apart, however, was that his dual character as both scholar and moralist carried over from his historical studies to his life. When Thurgood Marshall’s team of lawyers began building their legal challenge to segregation in the case that resulted in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, they naturally turned to Dr. Franklin and his command of the tangled realities behind the phrase “separate but equal.”

    A decade later Dr. Franklin became more visible in the civil rights movement, joining the march on Selma led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Because Dr. Franklin’s reputation as a scholar was so high, this seemed less an act of protest than of historical witness: the man who had documented the history of black America was now a first-hand participant in its next essential chapter....

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/weekinreview/29applebome.html?hpw
     
  2. excel10k

    excel10k Banned MEMBER

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    Wow!!! My family and I just picked up the PBS video from the Libray and watched it two days ago. I did not realize he just recently died. The video was awesome. His story is great. I highly recomend the PBS video on him. I enjoyed it so my, every since I seen it two days ago I have been thinking about going back to the library to get it again.
     
  3. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    I'll look for that, thanks!
     
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